Sunday, April 11, 2010
Man the Barricades
Last week, Helena Guergis finally fell from her perch. It was not a surprise. As Adam Radwanski suggested in The Globe and Mail, her downfall did not mark a turning point in Canadian history. Her story and her husband's story are not new; in fact, they are as old as the Book of Genesis. We have been treated to a tale of two young and ambitious people who began to believe their own press releases -- or, in Guergis' case, the letters to the editor which were written by her own staff.
And, beyond the obvious hypocrisy of a party which is obsessed with bringing in mandatory sentences -- except for fellow public servants -- the saga represents another object lesson in how this Prime Minister handles problems. Having told a press conference that "serious allegations" had been brought against Guergis, Mr. Harper then announced that he had received Guergis' resignation, had called in the RCMP and the Ethics Commissioner to investigate, and had thrown Geurgis out of the Conservative caucus.
Tossing elected representatives from the caucus is nothing new for Harper. He did the same thing to Garth Turner and Bill Casey. And, when embarrassing information emerged about Brian Mulroney, he ordered his minions to treat Mulroney as persona non-grata. Mr. Harper frequently banishes -- or tries to banish -- those he deems toxic to the brand.
But, once again, he has tried to pull down the Cone of Silence. When asked what the allegations against Guergis were, he said, "Under the circumstances I will not comment on them further." It was another example of a well established pattern. Mr. Harper has just returned from his second prorogation of parliament in thirteen months -- the first time when he faced a vote of non-confidence in the House, the second time when the committee investigating Afghan prisoner abuse demanded uncensored documents about how those prisoners were handled.
He tried to dump thousands of redacted documents at the committee's doorstep, hoping to create a diversion. But information keeps leaking out -- most recently in Sunday's Globe, which recounts the story of Canadian military involvement with Kandahar's infamous Brigade 888. When Guergis' husband -- defeated MP Rahim Jaffer -- walked away from a drunk driving and cocaine possession charge with a $500 fine, Kevin Donovan of The Toronto Star, began digging into Jaffer's relationships with people who have been charged with fraud, as well as the former MP's claims to have had access to the Prime Minister's Office.
There is probably no substance to Jaffer's assertions that the levers of power were at his finger tips. Like Duddy Kravitz, he seems to have been perpetually pitching, engaged in a never ending effort to promote himself and to rise in the world. It would appear that Guergis herself has a similar history. They both have encountered similar fates.
But the real issue is the character of the Prime Minister. His is obsessed with control -- and control of information is his first line of defense. He has a hard time dealing with public scrutiny; and he seeks to limit it at every turn. He has no problem when it comes to appearing at public events, like the Olympics, or the remembrance ceremony to mark the death of Canada's last veteran of World War I. But he draws the line when the opposition parties or the press seek information. Like the Pope, he has concluded that all they wish to do is to spread "petty gossip."
But the information keeps seeping through the dam Mr. Harper has constructed. The second Bush administration, seeking allies when it ginned up the War in Iraq, co-opted large segments of the American press. This prime minister has always been suspicious of the Canadian press; and, from the very beginning, he declared that they -- people like Garth Turner -- were the enemy. And, in the end, it will be those "ink stained wretches" who will bring him down.